August 6, 2014

How to Teach You Children Shakespeare (Book Review)

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig, a well known playwright and self-described Shakespeare fanatic, is part how-to guide and part homage to the Bard. The premise is one that has intrigued me since I first heard about the book. Ludwig maintains that memorization is key to understanding the plays and he lays out a method for doing this with your children, beginning with short lines and moving on to longer passages.

Ludwig maintains that by going line by line you (and your children) will be able to understand the plays far better than by simply reading them to yourself. Anyone who has seen one of Shakespeare's plays performed in a theater or movie knows that this when the play truly comes to life.

The book is broken down into very short chapters, each covering a passage from one of the plays. The first chapters cover short segments from A Midsummers Night's Dream, and the last few cover the Hamlet soliloquies, for example. It is by no means an exhaustive list of all the lines someone "should" learn, instead he takes his time with the plays that need it, and focuses on ones that will appeal to children or that are so well-known (ahem, Hamlet) that they must be covered well.

His methodology of speaking the lines out loud, and practicing them with your children, using provided "quotation pages" that are found in the book and on his website, is simple and surprisingly effective. I did the first few chapters with my boys and even my youngest kept up. My oldest (who is 6) was SO proud of himself, and weeks later will still come up to me and whisper "I know a place where the wild thyme blows, where the oxlips and the nodding violets grows". 

Better still was the fact that this exercise got my husband and I talking with the boys about our favorite lines, and next thing you know we were all yelling the St. Crispin's Day Speech from Henry V together with Kenneth Branagh. I remember my Dad sitting me down to watch that scene when it first aired on PBS, and I really hope my boys remember the power in those words too.

The tone throughout the book is conversational, and I felt like I was taking a really great seminar class in college. I learned so much just reading the book through, and I see the potential it has to be combined with viewings of the plays themselves, or other non-fiction books or series. Shakespeare Uncovered (also streaming free on Amazon Prime) would be such a good fit! There are excellent appendices and bibliographies that would make it a breeze to match the chapters with other material.

Ludwig paraphrases or translates each passage and then explains the back story of the play. This is the perfect starting point to Shakespeare for children and adults.

Towards the end of the book, Ludwig writes in bold, capital letters:

"Do not be daunted by its length or its seeming difficulty. If you take it a sentence at a time, it will become perfectly clear. The purpose of your work with your children is to demystify Shakespeare. Persevere!"

So encouraging and so true.

I was given a review copy of this book, courtesy of Blogging for Books, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. Some links contained within are affiliate links. Thanks for supporting Hearth and Homefront!

1 comment:

  1. I was really curious about this when I saw it on your goodreads. Thanks for the review! Sounds like a keeper.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Blogging tips